Monday, 18 February 2013

Communicating when stuff breaks - it really matters.

Stepping out of the air conditioned, windowless room in which I had been sequestered today, the first thing that hit me was the smell of a fire.  Then it was the colour of the sky.  Then it was the actual heat.  I had been expecting the heat, so I didn't pay much attention to it.  Until I set foot in the tram which lacked air conditioning.  At least the windows opened, but it didn't make much difference.  I was trapped in the metal tube of death and the metal tube of death was going to roast me alive.

We were on our way to the next stop when the tram stopped at a red light.  The lights changed several times and nothing happened.  I was absorbed in my book, so it took me a while to notice what was going on.  About eight trams were in a line down St Kilda Road and there were already three in the space where we should have been able to turn.  None of them were moving.  The first tram of these three had broken down.

We got off the tram and went to the stop where we were directed to the bus stop.  Questions about when the bus could be expected or where it would go were met with the answer, "Go and wait for the bus."

It was at least 35 degrees at that point and I was happy for some shade.

A bus came along pretty quickly with "not in service" emblazoned across the front.  It stopped anyway. The front door opened and people squeezed on.  Questions to the driver about where the bus was going was met with obscure, nonsensical responses given the routes of the trams we had come from.

As we travelled down St Kilda Road, we saw - from the comfort of our forward propelled and air-conditioned bus - dozens of people baking in the heat at the tram stops along the way.  It was clear from the numbers of people and their body language that they had been waiting and while and had no idea about what was going on.

I couldn't open the window of my air-conditioned-moving-forward-bus.  If I could have, I would have done the work of Yarra Trams and advised them about what was happening.

After I left the bus, I wandered over to another tram stop to see if there was any information available about what had happened.  There was.  It came from a helpful, community minded bloke driving a white van.  As he waited at a red light he informed us that the trams were stopped because of a break down back down the line.

What a great thing to do!  And where was Yarra Trams?  Lucky this thoughtful man was driving by.  It's a bit of a chancy communication strategy though.

I've dutifully rung and provided feedback.  As usual, the issue isn't about the break down, it's about the communication with and respect for the travelling public.

I know that research has shown that the most loyal customers are not the people who have never had a problem with an organisation.  The most loyal customers are the ones who have had a problem, and have had that problem well-handled by the organisation.  Rather than viewing feedback and complaints as annoying, a smart organisation will view it as an opportunity to build loyalty.  Perhaps our public transport operators don't care about this because they know Melbourne's travelling public don't have a choice and they are locked into a government contract.

Do you speak up and let businesses know about your experience with them? What happens when you do?

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